The Financial Express

Myanmar continues on its unacceptable path

| Updated: July 19, 2020 21:16:58

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are confined to overcrowded camps in Bangladesh 	—Reuters Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are confined to overcrowded camps in Bangladesh —Reuters

The evolving dynamics pertaining to Myanmar leaves a lot to be desired. Over the last few weeks, nearly every day has revealed fresh international concern about events taking place in that country. Anxiety is particularly surfacing about fresh incidents and how the relevant authorities in Myanmar have been responding to them. There has however neither been any requisite international intervention in the truest sense of the term, nor necessary effort to ensure solutions regarding these problems. As a result, these troubles have continued to diversify and grow.

The Myanmar authorities are demonstrating once again that challenges being presented to them are barriers that can be overcome through hop, step and jump. Such a response on their part has been relentless.

In this context, the media has reported that in recent weeks, Myanmar military launched massive offensive against the rebel group Arakan Army (AA) which has been seeking greater autonomy for ethnic Rohingyas in Rakhine. This month-long crackdown apparently involved indiscriminate firing on civilians and burning of villages. This has forced more than 10,000 people to flee from their homes. This offensive was supposedly in retaliation to an ambush carried out earlier by the AA that killed three members of border police and a civilian driver. It was clear that there was no hesitation in carrying out this measure as it was seen as another measure against the Rohingya population.

Analysts have indicated that the Myanmar military launched the "clearance operations" based on information that five villages around Rathedaung Township harboured AA fighters. Such a measure "was essentially a repeat of how Myanmar military conducted the 2017 genocide against the Rohingyas", who fled en masse to Bangladesh. The latest round of offensive has caused further displacement, hunger and increased sufferings of people in Rakhine and dimmed any hope for repatriation of over one million Rohingya refugees now sheltered in Bangladesh.

The subsequent lack on the part of ASEAN to play a more proactive role over the Rohingya crisis has been described by many observers as "totally shameful." Around the time of this incident, the ASEAN met virtually for their annual summit. With Myanmar as a member state, the ASEAN neither put out any formal statement about the crisis at sea near the Indonesian coast nor the ongoing situation in the Rakhine state and repatriation of over a million Rohingyas from Bangladesh-- a country that is not even a member of the ASEAN. The whole issue was just swept under the carpet.

As a result, the ASEAN is now faced with criticism for its poor handling of the crisis by an ad-hoc committee helping Myanmar in the failed repatriation of the Rohingyas from Bangladesh despite several efforts by Bangladesh in 2018 and 2019.

It is generally agreed by geo-strategists that the ASEAN as a regional organisation has been less than interested in addressing the Rohingya crisis. There has been little effort on its part to stress on the different factors related to the humanitarian connotations of the Rohingya refugee crisis. There has been no open disagreement by them pertaining to the Rohingya crisis in terms of the human rights issue and Myanmar's decision to introduce the 1982 Citizenship Law that deprived the Rohingyas of citizenship in Myanmar. There have also been deliberate steps to deprive the Rohingya Muslims of documentation. In addition there has been the arbitrary and largely discriminatory implementation of the law that effectively excludes most of the Rohingyas even from naturalised citizenship. It may be recalled that such measures have led over 3 million Rohingyas to leave Myanmar in the last 30 years. They have done so to avoid systematic persecution and successive violence in 1992, 2015, 2016 and 2017. This unfortunate dynamics has led them -- as refugees -- to seek safety, sanctuary and possible employment in countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Their fluidity of status has also resulted in some of them getting involved in human trafficking, drug smuggling and many other reprehensible activities.

The Myanmar military has conducted their latest operations despite the standing order of the International Court of Justice on Myanmar to undertake emergency measures to prevent genocides against the Rohingyas. Such action on their part has clearly demonstrated that the Myanmar armed forces not only do not believe in transparency but also in liability.

We have also seen another measure undertaken by the Myanmar authorities on June 30, 2020. This was an example of shame and military impunity by the Myanmar armed forces.

Myanmar's court-martial conviction of three military personnel for crimes against ethnic Rohingya reflected its ongoing government efforts to evade meaningful accountability. Human Rights Watch has consequently observed in this context that Myanmar authorities have repeatedly failed to adequately investigate crimes against humanity and prosecute grave abuses against the Rohingyas in their Rakhine State.

On June 30, 2020, the Myanmar military announced that two officers and a soldier had been convicted for "weakness in following the instructions" during the "Gu Dar Pyin incident." It may be recalled that Rakhine State's Gu Dar Pyin village was the site of a massacre by the military on August 27-28, 2017, as part of its campaign of mass atrocities that forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh in the subsequent months. The Myanmar armed forces, however, did not provide any other information, such as the names and ranks of those convicted, their role in the massacre, or their sentences.

The Gu Dar Pyin court martial began in November 2019 following a military investigation led by Maj. Gen. Myat Kyaw that discovered "grounds to believe the soldiers did not fully comply with the rules of engagement." Closed hearings were held in Buthidaung Township till April 30, 2020.

This led Shayna Bauchner to observe that "Myanmar's farcical court martial is the latest attempt to feign progress on accountability in an apparent attempt to influence the United Nations and international tribunals." Analysts have also noted that "foreign governments should demand Myanmar open its doors to truly independent and impartial international investigators."

However, it needs to be stated that maintaining its characteristic lack of transparency, the Myanmar military has not released details about the trial or the actions being taken. Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun has commented that the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, was withholding information to avoid harming military morale. "We have to consider their dignity and service," he said. "We don't want this case to affect the morale of Tatmadaw soldiers in performing their duties and their spirit of comradeship."

It needs to be observed here that Human rights groups, the media, and UN investigators were carefully following the Myanmar military's so-called judicial exercise. They were doing so because they had extensive documentation of the Gu Dar Pyin massacre. Rohingya witnesses had provided evidence that hundreds of heavily armed soldiers and police had surrounded the town and shot villagers as they tried to flee. The UN-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar had also reported that soldiers abducted women and girls from the village and gang-raped them at a nearby military compound. The Associated Press had also identified at least five mass graves where soldiers had piled the bodies, before burning their faces off with acid. An estimated 300 to 400 Rohingya were killed. Security forces had also burnt down every structure in the village.

The unfortunate aspect of this scenario was the denying of all evidence presented in front of the Myanmar authorities regarding the military's attack on Gu Dar Pyin. On the contrary, it claimed that the Myanmar security forces had been responding to an attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an ethnic Rohingya armed group. It would be interesting to note here that despite the latest lack of transparency, the authorities have announced that military investigations into the attacks in Chut Pyin and Maung Nu and other villages in Rakhine State, are ongoing. It will not be surprising if the Myanmar military is subsequently found not to have violated human rights in their treatment of the minority civilians.

In an oral statement on July 14  during the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International has reiterated its deep concern and drawn attention to serious human rights violations, including war crimes, committedby the Myanmar armed forces through indiscriminate attacks-- killing or injuring civilians, burning of homes and villages, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill treatments. They have urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. They have also asked for genuine accountability ahead of the November elections in Myanmar.

The Myanmar government, nevertheless, continues to claim, as it did at the UN Human Rights Council session on the Rohingya on June 30, 2020 that it "is willing and able to address the issue of accountability," and that "the domestic justice system of a country must be respected."

To such a view one can only observe that if Myanmar is serious about accountability, it should grant access to the Rakhine State to international investigators, including the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, the new UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, and the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation into the crime against humanity of deportation and other related crimes in November 2019.

UK's International Ambassador for Human Rights Rita French has also asked in the first week of July for accountability for atrocities being essential for Myanmar to move towards peace and stability. She has also noted that this can be achieved by Myanmar "significantly easing restrictions, reforming documentation and permission requirements in line with recommendations 18-23 of the Rakhine Advisory Commission and recommendation 16 of the Independent Commission of Enquiry". The UK has also noted that it welcomes the valuable work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar in collecting evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law.


Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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